Okinawa’s ‘Reversion’ 50 Years On

Christopher T. Nelson

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

From Among the Dead

In early 2022, Gushiken Takamatsu, director of the Okinawan NPO Gamafuyā, began a hunger strike to protest the use of earth dug from battlefields in southern Okinawa in the construction of a new Marine air base miles to the north. The unrecovered remains of the dead are inseparable from the soil where they lie, he argued. Are they to be forced yet again to join in the preparations for war?  For decades, he and his friends have searched fields, beaches and caverns for the remains of those killed in the Battle of Okinawa. Their determination to return the dead to their families and their native places is intertwined with a hope that the physical traces of the Pacific War can be used to create the material basis of a new and just community. In my paper, I will relate his current activism to a dialog with the dead that began with his early efforts to recover their remains. In particular, I am interested in a moment that enabled him to radically reimagine the relationship between sacrifice, patriotism, and death.

Christopher T. Nelson is a cultural anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests include the relationship between history and memory; the critical study of everyday life; storytelling, ritual and performance; value, exchange and sacrifice. His first book, Dancing With the Dead: Memory, Performance and Everyday Life in Postwar Okinawa was published by Duke University Press. He is currently at work on a book entitled, When the Bones Speak: Value, Sacrifice and Creative Action, an ethnography of laborers, artists, ethnologists, political activists, shaman and the dead in Japan. Nelson is one of the editors of the journal, Cultural Anthropology, and an advocate for open access publication.